Lunch Break: Cream, “Deserted Cities of the Heart”

I was lucky enough to see Cream in 1968, during their first big American tour. I was just 15, but they knocked me out. Oddly, the opening act was the Grateful Dead, who played Alligator for an hour, and that was it, making it really hard for me to warm up to the band for a number of years (Workingman’s Dead started the change).

They were great, and I do indeed love Fresh Cream, though curiously, nothing by the band made my essentials list.

Still, NSU, I Feel Free, and I’m So Glad are serious faves.

However, in deference to Lindsay’s “what I like to listen to when I am sad,” I grabbed my favorite Cream cut, Deserted Cities of the Heart, penned by Monsieur Bruce, and in honor of his passing.

From Wheels of Fire, which was produced by said Felix Papplardi (whom I believe played cello on the cut), this song rocks, is dreamy, and takes some unexpected form twists (I LOVE the doorbell/glockenspiel/whatever is channeled into the background as Clapton starts his solo).

Miss you Jack! You were great (and somehow, I cannot believe Ginger Baker outlived you).

I included both the haunting studio version with said strings and treatments, and a fairly blistering live take as well.

5 thoughts on “Lunch Break: Cream, “Deserted Cities of the Heart”

  1. Sacrilege! Jack played the cello on DSOTH which is to be expected as it was his instrument at the Royal Academy.. Felix PAPPALARDI played the viola apparently, and the “doorbell/glockenspiel/whatever” is a cowbell.

    • If it’s a cowbell, it’s the most multitonally-tuned cowbell I’ve personally ever heard. Or are all cowbells capable of making that ominously descending series of tones heard behind Eric’s solo? Or is Ginger so magically endowed as a drummer/percussionist that he (unlike any other cowbell-banger I’m aware of that ever lived) can produce a series of different, descending tones from a standard-issue cowbell? Just asking. Anyway this is by far my favorite Cream song, not just Jack’s vocal and bass and cello playing, not just Ginger’s apocalyptic drumming, not just Eric’s fiery solo (one of his best IMHO), and not just (you’re right) Pappalardi’s viola contribution, but also Jack’s relentless acoustic guitar strumming in the verses, pushing the song along as much as Ginger’s drums and Jack’s bass.

  2. Tuned cowbells-called almglocken, we used these extensively in the late 60s-early 70s in the NJ Percussion ensemble.for several compositions. and yes, this song was biographical for me in the late 60’s in a tragic way, a beautifully deep and dark song Music kept me alive through a terrible time back then. This song could have been about Felix Pappalardi who wouldn’t have much time left, maybe this was referencing what he might have been going through before his wife shot and killed him.

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